Changing the Way We Ship Food with Global Fresh Foods’ Mark Barnekow

August 30, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us on the line today Mark Barnekow. He’s the Chief Executive Officer of Global Fresh Foods. Welcome to Green is Good, Mark. MARK BARNEKOW: Thanks so much for having me, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, you know, Mark, you’ve got a great company, which we’re going to talk about today, but I also want to talk about you a little bit and what makes the show so much fun is that we have an array of guests and they end up on these wonderful journeys and they end up doing great work that in so many ways, changes the world or makes the world a better place, I should say. Before we start talking about your company, Global Fresh Foods, why don’t you share a little bit your journey, how you even got to this point to become the CEO of Global Fresh? MARK BARNEKOW: Oh, it’s been an incredible journey for me. I really have to go way back to when I graduated from college and I got an airplane for the first time and flew to Taiwan to go spend some time teaching in Taiwan. I was a student of Mandarin Chinese and I went over to perfect my Chinese. I spent a couple years in Taiwan and then went to live in mainland China. This was all in the early ’80s and I think that was my first entrepreneurial journey. That’s when I took the biggest risk and that always came back to me over the years so I eventually went to business school and kind of did the traditional route and ended up in Silicon Valley doing a startup back in the late ’90s, early 2000s that we built up and sold to a private equity firm so this is my second crack at it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is take two? MARK BARNEKOW: It is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, that’s sometimes what gets us out of bed in the morning, so I totally understand it and so how many years ago did you create Global Fresh Foods? MARK BARNEKOW: I actually came in to commercialize the business. That’s my specialty, so I’ve been in just only nine months. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Okay, and so you’ve been CEO of Global Fresh Foods nine months? MARK BARNEKOW: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and so now, let’s talk about it and for our listeners out there that want to see more of the great work you’re doing there and why your company is so important, please go to www.globalfreshfoods.com. I’m on the site right now. It’s a beautiful site, visually speaking. Talk a little bit about the technology, what your company does and the technology behind it. MARK BARNEKOW: Yeah, sure. First of all, most people don’t really understand or know how the seafood that comes to the dinner table goes through the supply chain. Typically, it takes a several day journey in Styrofoam boxes from the most remote corners of the world and gets transported by air freight into the United States, Europe, and other markets around the world is our goal at Global Fresh Foods is really to change all that and really transform the transportation industry for the seafood industry and other proteins and we do that using a patented fuel-cell technology and a packaging system to ship seafood by ocean rather than air freight so our technology and the way it works, basically what we do is we package up a ton of fish, which is about a pallet’s worth of fish. We wrap it in plastic and we drop our technology in. Then we turn the fuel cell on and when that fuel cell kicks on, the fuel cell is actually scavenging oxygen out of the plastic bag so what it’s doing is it’s causing the fish to go dormant throughout an entire ocean journey, so we put 18 of those pallets with our technology in the container and ship it to various points around the world. The journeys can take as little as 15 or 17 days and we’ve had product on the water for 50 days. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and when it shows up, it’s very, very fresh. MARK BARNEKOW: It’s very fresh. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, why is this better for the environment? Explain the nexus between this interesting technology and the environment. MARK BARNEKOW: Yeah. People probably don’t know that air freight is 99% more CO2 emitting than ocean freight, so whenever seafood is being shipped in via air freight, it’s polluting the environment in a very big way, but I think also importantly is the fact that people don’t know that their products come in Styrofoam and sometimes they get packed at the source and they get repacked at a distributor or maybe repacked again at a retail store so there’s a lot of Styrofoam going into landfills as a result of the supply chain and our system uses recycled cardboard boxes. We use absolutely no Styrofoam. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, this technology that you speak of that scavenges for the oxygen and pulls it out and makes the fish go dormant, is that unique to Global Fresh Foods or do other carriers have that technology? MARK BARNEKOW: This is unique to Global Fresh. Nobody else on the planet has it. People have tried to shift seafood around the world using ocean freight fresh and failed many times so there have been a lot of people that have tried this. We’re the first ones to take the fuel cell, which traditionally uses oxygen to create power, and we actually use it to bleed off oxygen from within the pallet of fish. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, because of this unique technology, which creates a huge advantage for your company over your competitors, it’s possible for non-frozen fish fillets to be very fresh when they show up 20, 30 days after being transported. MARK BARNEKOW: Absolutely. We had a shipment come into LA last week. I was at the customer on Tuesday after the holidays and they’d shipped most of the fish out but I asked them to hold a box for me and when I came in, that fish had been in our system for 31 days. It had been out of the box at their plant for six days and I asked the chef to cook it up. The fish cooked up and we did a side-by-side comparison with airfreighted fish. Our fish was actually better. It actually tasted less fishy than the airfreighted fish. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, so that’s a huge advantage. What other huge advantages are there and when you’re talking to a chef or an owner of a huge chain that sells fish and you’re trying to explain the differential, what problems are you solving for them? You’re taking a problem off their desk or problems off their desk. What are you taking off their desk? MARK BARNEKOW: Absolutely. I’d say one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problems that chefs and retailers have and that’s why we work very closely with suppliers and distributors is the inconsistency of supply so a lot of times, the large retailers will call up their distributors and if the airplane missed a connection or didn’t get off the ground, the fish won’t arrive. They won’t come into the warehouse and get processed for shipping out to the retailer or the food service customer or the chef and so consistency of supply is something that’s really key and our technology is effectively an inventory system. We’re inventorying product in our case as it leaves Talcahuano, Chile, and gets shipped to Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Tokyo. That product is on the water and we know when it’s going to come in so you’ll never have another misshipment due to an airplane missing their connection or due to planes not getting off the ground due to weather. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, as you pointed out earlier then, you’re also reducing the carbon footprint so for restaurants or retailers or for consumers, just the general consumer at large who now is concerned about lower carbon footprint, lower energy costs and fresher fish, this is a solution. MARK BARNEKOW: Absolutely, so for example, in our last shipment from Santiago to Los Angeles, we actually shipped into Long Beach. We shipped 18 tons of fresh salmon and if airfreighted in, that would have been about 600,000 pounds of CO2 going into the atmosphere. With our system using ocean freight fresh, we’ve probably added only 6,000 pounds of CO2. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and how long have you been using this technology? MARK BARNEKOW: This technology was developed starting about seven years ago, and we really only started to commercialize the business back about a year ago, June of last year, and I’m in Boston now. We’ve been running shipments into New York, transporting those by truck up to Boston. We’ve just started to open up the west coast of the U.S., Japan, and we’re aiming for Europe here pretty soon. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, every day we’re all inundated online and offline with these headlines of some other food problem in terms of what we’re ingesting and how we have to be more careful and FDA and other issues surrounding our food chain. Is it safe for consumers to eat fish that’s been 30 days, 20 days in transit and can consumers even taste the difference, as you were pointing out the side by side you had the other day with the chef? Is this something consumers at large now can discern? MARK BARNEKOW: Certainly, consumers wouldn’t be able to discern our fish versus airfreighted fish, but the fish is very safe. We have food scientists on staff that ensure the highest level of food quality and safety and we’re constantly testing our product through third-party testing agencies. Our customers require that we do that and so we also adhere to HASA requirement. This is all a technology that’s FDA green listed, which is our Greenlists are 16, 125 so companies that use our technology have to get on that FDA green list. The FDA has basically signed off on the technology as something that’s safe to use. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It sounds like you’ve been there nine months and you have this technology to use since you’ve been there. It sounds like you’ve built a better mousetrap. How has been the reception by your client base and potential client base to this wonderful, revolutionary new technology? MARK BARNEKOW: Well, that’s what really drew me to this company. In one’s career, you don’t get many opportunities to work with a technology that is just off the charts amazing and when I was sitting with my customer on Tuesday, I turned to them and said, “Isn’t this amazing? There’s nothing like this out there,” and they all agreed with me. You can’t describe it. You have to see it but the reception has been remarkable from around the world. It’s shows like this that people pick up on and we get emails off our website. We get calls in, people wanting to know more about the technology and how they can supply it to their supply chain. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and so now that you’ve been there about nine months, share a little bit about what the macro issue looks like. How does this technology affect the global food market? Are there other applications for this besides just fish and what’s the next step for you with regards to the technology and Global Fresh Foods? MARK BARNEKOW: Yeah. We’re really focused on driving volume so moving containers of product right now because the seafood industry is one of the oldest food industries in the world and you gotta see it to believe it and so we really want to move as much product and get people accustomed to bringing fish in this way, the most sustainable way, so that’s really kind of the mission of what we’re trying to try to achieve and we’re also just to give you a little glimpse into the future, we’re shipping products from Vietnam next month. We’re actually shipping Barramundis so a new species of product with a U.S. manufacturer who has an operation in Vietnam. We’re shipping Barramundi into the U.S. We’re also testing some other proteins so we’re constantly testing new species of fish and we’re testing new proteins. We’re working with food conglomerates in Chile right now and testing pork. They want to add shelf life days and transportation days to their pork products, so we’re constantly trying to innovate in new product species, new proteins and in new markets. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Give our listeners a sense, Mark, of Global Fresh versus your two or three largest competitors. Are you the world leader? Are there others that are world leaders and are you going to be able to pick up market share because of this unique technology and how you’re positioning it? MARK BARNEKOW: I don’t want to say there are no competitors because we do face airfreight as a kind of competition. That’s big competition. We’re dealing with some of the major air carriers around the world including the one that I fly on a regular basis is actually promoting shipping fresh seafood via air freight and I don’t know that they realize that that message doesn’t go over well with people who are environmentally conscious. We also compete with frozen product so frozen product today comes in via ocean freight and really, the difference that consumers need to understand is that when fish is frozen the first time, it loses 25% of its value, but it also loses a significant quality factor. It gets tough. It gets a little more chewy, a little more rubbery. It loses its flavor. When you freeze it again, and a lot of product gets moved from one part of the world to another to get processes. It gets frozen during that process. Then it gets back and frozen and processed again so there are oftentimes seafoods that are frozen two or three times and every time you freeze a product, it loses value. It loses quality. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, if they buy fish that have been transported your way, there’s a 99% savings of carbon emissions. MARK BARNEKOW: Absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s amazing. You know, Mark, I’m so glad you came on the show today. This is such an important message for consumers, for retailers, and for chefs. I hope they’re listening to the show. I hope they spread the word. I want them to go to your website, www.globalfreshfoods.com, and for our listeners out there, go to the sustainable freshness section and see all the benefits to Mark’s technology and what they’re doing at Global fresh. You won’t want to eat another piece of fish unless it’s been shipped this way. Mark Barnekow, you’re the CEO of Global Fresh Foods, you’re a sustainability leader, and truly living proof that green is good.